Wise Start Guide
The best Sparkwise boards share some core characteristics:
- a clearly articulated goal
- a defined target audience
- meaningful data sources that add context and reveal new insights
- a diversity of visualizations
- opportunities for interaction and engagement
- compelling images and videos
- provocative language that brings rich context to the data
- clear calls to action
Connect your existing data
First things first: begin aggregating your currently available data. Create a master dashboard or group of dashboards with your Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, and any other datasets or media you refer to on a regular basis. Save the widgets you create by clicking on the “My Set” icon on the back of the widget. By doing this, Sparkwise will be able to aggregate the data for you over time, and you will be able to easily access those widgets from any board you create.
Articulate a goal
Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?” Think about the message you are trying to communicate—what do you want people to understand? Are you creating a board around an idea, an issue, an activity, a campaign, a place, a person? Specificity is important. For example, if you are making a board about your school, what is your focus? Academic success? Fundraising needs? Student impact on social and environmental issues? Decide on a goal and create a title for your board that reflects it, keeping in mind you may change things up a little once you figure out your target audience and how best to communicate with them.
Do you have more than one goal? Consider making more than one board so you can tell a powerful story for each.
Be strategic and impact-focused
Once you define a goal, it’s important to think about how you can know and demonstrate your progress. What data and content sources are the best indicators to show that your project is having an impact and that your audience is responding the way you hoped they would? What data will provide the most compelling insight into your organization? What stories will help change people’s minds on your issue? Figuring this out as best you can before you get started will help focus your work and clarify your vision for success—in fact, we think it’s good advice applied to your project first, then your dashboard.
For example, if your school has just put in a community garden and is involved in a campaign to fight childhood obesity, you probably have access to data about your school’s health and fitness—and you’ve given some thought to where you’d like those numbers to be at the end of the campaign. Are you having an all-school fitness celebration and measuring the number of pushups completed? Are you doing an all-school weigh-in to see how many collective pounds the school can lose? A Facebook project with a sister school to see how many signatures you can get on a petition to send to the State Capital for district physical fitness funding? A PTA fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 to help build a new playground? Correlating the healthiness of the menu offerings with reading and math scores over time? It’s a lot to think about, but with a little brainstorming, you’ll likely find that you have more data sources than you expected.
We recommend working with your team at the beginning of any project to agree on a set of indicators for success so that the boards you create reflect your collective wisdom and engage audiences in your work.
Define a target audience
Target audiences are the communities you want to reach the most. The data you choose to report, and the media you select, may change depending on your target audience. Or it could be the same, but how you choose to visualize it, and the story you tell, should reflect who you are trying to convince. The more clearly you define your project goals for each audience—and what it looks like as you make progress towards those goals—the more powerful your Sparkwise data story will be.
Going back to the school example, if you are trying to convince the School District not to close your school, the School Board and the Mayor’s office would likely be your target audience. So you’d want to show them the most compelling metrics for their decision-making: how significantly the students have improved over the course of the year and how many crucial services the school provides. In a different example, if you are trying to spur kids to get involved in cleaning up the environment, the kids are your target audience. Figure out what they need, what they think is important, and what they will respond to so you can be strategic about how you communicate with them.
Just because you define a target audience does not mean you can’t try to reach a broader general audience with your message. Share your data far and wide, but keeping the target audience in mind will help you focus your story and clarify your goals.
Select meaningful data sources
Select your data sources based on your goals and your target audience. To identify relevant data sources that best tell your impact story, try to answer these three central questions:
- Context: What data will help demonstrate the problem I am trying to solve and reveal new ideas and opportunities?
- Content: What metrics (quantitative) and media (qualitative) will best show the progress toward my goal?
- Community: What information will reveal how people’s lives have changed because of my work? What data will indicate the real level of engagement and impact?
For example, say you are a documentary filmmaker who gets a grant from a foundation for distribution and audience engagement. Regardless of what your film is about, the grant contract will likely specify what you need to report at the end of the project. This could be: how many people see the movie; how many community screenings and panel discussions took place; how many downloads; how many tweets, retweets, followers and fans; how much money you raised for your cause; how many new members your partner organizations acquired; how many people signed a petition; how many people bought the DVD; how many foreign countries broadcast the film and how many people watched it on television; etc. You can create widgets in Sparkwise to track and report all this data. This is what would be aggregated in your master dashboard.
To make a compelling board for your funder and other stakeholders in the project, you might also want to think about reporting on the impact the film had in grass roots campaigns, policy discussions, new legislation and actual changes in people’s lives. This kind of reporting would require accessing information from open datasets that are available online, research from the documentary and other news sources, and data shared from partner organizations. Additional content such as video testimonials, articles from newspapers, social storytelling, radio profiles and photojournalism can help you create a vibrant and compelling case for impact. Sparkwise understands that stories are data too.
Selecting meaningful data sources is something you will probably spend a lot of time thinking about. If you are using your data to build capacity in an organization or company, you will probably hire a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) consultant at some point to help you figure it out. It is important to think about benchmarks for success and the leading indicators of impact at the beginning of any project. Certainly, because we are working with so much live information, things can change on the fly. With Sparkwise, you can adapt to those changes in the moment by creating new widgets and unique correlations to gain deeper insights.
Choose the most effective visualizations
There is no one right way to visualize data, but some visualizations are more effective than others for certain data types. Experiment with all the visualizations that are available on the back of each widget; see how your information looks as a big number, a map, a trend, a pie chart, on a gauge showing progress towards a goal, or compared with other data sources over time. What will make the strongest impact with your target audience? Sometimes it is helpful to create multiple visualizations of the same information to reinforce an important point.
Review your board once all your data is placed. Do you have a diversity and balance of visualization types? Are all your widgets the same size, or are they sized according to importance? Grouped according to theme? Have you annotated your spikes in data trends with events? Do you use social media data feeds to show the spread of conversations?
Overall, is the story clear and well articulated?
If you are thinking about embedding individual widgets in a blog or website rather than publishing your full dashboard, you will also want to consider the placement, size and impact of the widget in context. Make sure the information you are sharing makes the statement you want to make on the page.
Digital audiences want opportunities to connect with you and your project, join your campaign, learn more about issues, donate money to your cause, and tell you how they feel about it. Sparkwise helps you create those connections with the customizable action link included within each widget.
After you create a data connection in the widget, think about where you might want to lead your audience next. If you are sharing how many Facebook fans you have, you can connect them to your page. If you are reporting on how many legislators support a bill you campaigned for, you can link to a map that shows who their legislator is and a link to email him/her directly. If you run a green jobs program in a big city, report on how many jobs you’ve created and link people to an opportunity to sponsor your high school internship program. Be creative. Think about fostering unexpected connections and opportunities for real world engagement that will continue to move the needle. Invite people to become part of your data story.
Track your audience engagement
Creating URLs for your action links with bit.ly will enable you to collect data on how many people click through to your link directly from your widget.
Create a rich story experience
Use beautiful, arresting images, well-crafted video and evocative, clear language to create a rich story experience. Create a sense of people and places in your board. Try to bring in the human story to inform the data you are sharing. Experiment with the tools in the Story drawer: you can create slide shows, embed individual photographs of any size, excerpts from articles, quotes, radio podcasts, infographics. You are limited only by your imagination.
Show, don’t tell
In terms of your narrative, we recommend you be economic with your language. Reflect the authentic voice of your project and its community, explain the impact of data points that might be confusing, and tell the story that may not be fully revealed by quantitative data alone.
We all make a difference in the world. Let’s tell those stories.